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Trump wins South Carolina's GOP primary as Haley vows to stay in the race

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.
Andrew Harnik
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley faces a critical election today in her bid for the GOP presidential nomination in her home state of South Carolina.

Haley, who was elected twice as governor in the state, has yet to win a presidential contest. In South Carolina, most polling has shown herlagging significantly behind former President Donald Trump — who has far and away been the party's front-runner throughout this entire race.

Despite that, Haley's campaign has banked a lot of time and resources in South Carolina. Her campaign raised millions last month – and has receivedinfluxes of cash from a billionaire donor, in particular.

On Tuesday, she vowed to stay in the race even if she doesn't win the South Carolina primary.

"South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday I'll still be running for president," Haley said during a campaign speech in Greenville, S.C. "I'm not going anywhere."

She also pledged that she would continue campaigning until "the last person votes." She later told NPR she would stay in though at least Super Tuesday, which is on March 5.

"I haven't actually sat down and thought about what comes after that," Haley said. "But our goal was between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, another 20 states have voted, and that's more of the representation we want, let people's voices be heard."

On Friday, her campaign announced they were launching a "seven-figure" national ad buy ahead of Super Tuesday.

Trump has mocked Haley for staying in the race. Duringa town hall event hosted by Fox News in Greenville, S.C., on Tuesday, Trump said, "I don't think she knows how to get out" of the race.

"I really don't," he said. "She just can't get herself to get out."

Polls in South Carolina close at 7 p.m. E.T.


A closer look at South Carolina voters — and some hurdles for Haley

So far, Haley has been doing best among voters who are more moderate, as well as Republican voters who are open to an alternative to Trump. In New Hampshire, which has a large share of independent voters, Haley got 43% of the vote. Trump won the primary, though, with 54% of the vote.

However, in South Carolina, voters are significantly more conservative, which presents significant hurdles for Haley. That's even though she was elected twice as governor of the state about a decade ago.

Republicans say the party has changed a lot in the state since then. Matt Moore, who previously served as the chairman of South Carolina's state Republican Party,told NPR's Don Gonyea that the GOP there is "a much different party than when Nikki Haley was governor."

"I would say that Nikki Haley is highly respected, first and foremost, but I do think people see a president differently than they see a governor or a member of a cabinet," he said. "She has run a very good textbook campaign. But the reality is that Trump has been the de facto incumbent of the party, and there's hardly anything anyone can do about it."

Fifty delegates are up for grabs in today's election in South Carolina — and all of them will be awarded to the winner. Some states divvy up delegates according to a candidate's vote share. South Carolina's system, however, is winner take all.

In 2016, more than 750,000 voters – a state GOP record – participated in South Carolina's Republican primary, according to state figures. In this year's primary, voters have already cast about 205,000 ballots during an early voting period, which ran from Feb. 12-22.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.